China bans celebrities with ‘lapsed morals’ from endorsing products

<span>Photograph: VCG/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

China has banned all celebrities from endorsing a range of products and banned those with “lapsed morals” from endorsing anything, as part of an ongoing drive to align society with “core socialist values”.

The regulations, announced by state regulators this week, bar Chinese celebrities from publicly endorsing or advertising health, education and financial commodities, including e-cigarettes and baby formula.

Regulators said the push was to ensure China’s society was “guided by Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”, referring to the sweeping ideology underpinning the rule of the Xi-led Communist party.

“Celebrities should consciously practise socialist core values ​​in their advertising endorsement activities, and endorsement activities should conform to social morals and traditional virtues,” the new regulations said.

It is the latest regulatory move in a crackdown on the entertainment industry, in which celebrities have effectively been blacklisted over scandals and interventions into online fandom.

The rules also banned companies from hiring celebrities found to have “lapsed morals” or engaged in illegal behaviour including tax evasion, drunkenness, drug addiction and fraud, and from using images of Communist party leaders, revolutionary leaders and heroes in their advertising.

The authorities said the regulations had been introduced in response to celebrities illegally or falsely endorsing “bad ideas”.

“The media is lax, allowing illegal and immoral stars to participate in advertising endorsements. The chaos in the field of advertising endorsements has seriously infringed upon the rights and interests of consumers, disrupted the market order and polluted the social atmosphere, and the people have expressed strong reactions,” it said, according to state media.

Under Xi’s increasingly authoritarian rule, China’s government has tightened control over the country’s entertainment industry and celebrity fandom in an attempt to reshape China’s pop culture landscape.

In September 2021, authorities banned some reality TV talent shows and ordered broadcasters not to promote what it derogatorily referred to as “sissy” men. A two-month regulatory operation also banned the ranking of celebrities and cultural products in an effort to rein in the “chaos” and monetisation of online fandom.

In the same month, a Beijing entertainment symposium with the theme “Love the party, love the country, advocate morality and art” was told the industry must act with morality in both public and private.

The president of China’s advertising association, Zhang Guohua, said the regulations would contribute to a “more standardised and healthy improvement” of the industry.

“This does not mean that celebrity endorsements will be limited, but everyone will be more cautious, and the artists will be more responsible and self-disciplined. As long as the law is complied with, celebrity endorsements will still be carried out normally within the scope of compliance and legality, so the impact is positive,” Zhang told domestic media.

He said those who had “enjoyed the benefits of being a public figure” should prepare to be restrained in their actions because of their influence as role models.

“You have such an industry status and influence, so you should be cautious in your words and deeds,” Zhang said.

In recent years, China’s massive entertainment industry has been rocked by celebrity scandals that have crossed the line of extreme political sensitivity inside China.

In 2021, the actor Zheng Shuang was fined nearly 300m RMB ($46m) for tax evasion and banned from being invited on to entertainment programmes. Around the same time, Fendi brand ambassador Zhao Wei had her name removed from all works on major entertainment platforms for unknown reasons.

Several companies or celebrities were also punished for their endorsements of bad or fraudulent products. Last year, the standup comedian Li Dan was fined about $134,000 over a women’s underwear ad that was deemed insulting to women, the state media outlet Global Times reported.

The new guidelines also require celebrities to fully understand and have used the product they are endorsing.

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin